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La Famiglia: Revisited

Started by Jake Norwood, April 05, 2003, 06:17:58 PM

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Jake Norwood

Okay, so I'm serious about this one. I really want to finish it, and to prove it I'll have copies at GenCon, with art.

You can read the current and incomplete version of the game at www.theriddleofsteel.net/otherstuff/lafamiglia.htm

For those of you that want to participate but don't want to read the whole damn game (that's me around here) here's what I've got/am planning:

Goals of play (GNS stuff, sort of): I'm going for Narrativist-support here. The game revolves around the Reputations of each character, which function as combination of Spiritual Attribute (ala TROS), Attribute, and Skill, all rolled into one. These fluctuate dramatically during play, and because they are the reward system as well as the resolution mechanic they drive play. All the GM has to do is attack and provide opportunities to enhance reputations, creating player-driven stories, yada-yada. The primary goal in all my game designs is to ask "is this worth it?" In La Famiglia, you're gambling your reputation with every conflict (and in the Family, Reputation is Everything).

Resolution and Mechanics:
I'm going for a single conflict resolution system with branching rules for aspects that are important to the Genre as found in Movies and Books. The basic idea is that resolution is handled through Casino-style blackjack (everyone plays against the dealer) using the chips that rate your reptuations. If you lose, then the chips are gone, and they come out of your reputations. If you win then both the original bet and the winnings are used to buy results in the conflict. Narration is handled by the GM with heavy input from the player's bought results. Chips used to buy results return to the player's reputations, now with an increase.

Quirks and funky stuff I want to try: My main influences (mechanically) for this game are Universalis, TROS, Dust Devils, Sorcerer, and Ars Magica, in that order. Allyria is creepin' it's way in there now, too, dangit. So here's some things that I'm working on incorporating. I'm really attached to some of it, and just considering the rest.

* Troupe-style play - each player has multiple characters, a la Ars Magica.
* Introducing a character or a trait for an established character in-play (a la Universalis, but these characters are permanently relegated to their original players, as in a more traditional structure). I'm retaining the role of GM, but the players can do much of what a GM traditionally does. Sure, I could do away with the GM but I (a) like games with GMs and (b) Universalis does this so well there's no need to hop in on that market.
* Group creation of the PC's Family and possibly even the surrounding elements, taking influence from Ars Magica's "Covenant Creation" (but only in principle) and the story-mapping of Allyria. I'm even considering creating all of the initial players as a group and then assigning them to players as in Allyria.
* A few details that generally appear in "sim" games, like the difference between a shotgun and a pistol. I'm thinking a little more detail than Sorcerer, but not much.

The purpose of this post is really to start a discussion of the above bullets and to possibly add to or modify that list. Thanks in advance for your participation. I'll be working on the game most all day today.

Jake
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Brian Leybourne

Hey Jake, do you want to keep this particular thread fixed on those bullet points and start another thread for the rest of the game, or lump it all in here?

Your call, I have a couple of questions about the game itself, if you want to do that in another thread, let me know and I'll start a new one with the contents of this post.

My questions are more clarification ones, where I feel the rules are not 100% clear and could possibly do with some extra description and/or examples.

Creating PersonaggiOK, so as I understand it, I have 18 chips to create starting characters (I may have a Made man and a Thug, or perhaps a Hitman, a Footsoldier, a Thug and a Stoolie, or whatever. Them, each one of those characters gets 50 chips to bargain for his specific reputations across those 9 categories (tough as nails, god fearing, etc). You will end up with some number of chips in various reputations, some of which may be negative ones depending on how often you busted or lost.

What I don't get is how you work out how many chips a Personaggi gets for a given conflict. Is it his rank in the family (which starts out at 15 for a made man and 3 for a thug etc) plus whichever specific reputations he can convince the GM..sorry..boss should be applicable, or is it just those specific reputations, or just one...? How do negative reputations such as ugly or short or bad in bed come into things? Are they extra chips the opponent can gamble, etc.

Creating the family. This *really* needs an example. It seems to me that the 10 things you *must* include are going to be divvied up by the players first, but that nobody can really risk more than 5 chips per category because otherwisde they'll run out of the 50 before all 10 have been filled, and unless they go even lower than that they'll never get the chance to buy the extra, optional categories. Additionally, all it'll take is for one player to bid more than 5 for a gategory, and you mow can't fill all required 10 slots.

Conflicts. I'm unsure as to who gets to set the price. You say that the defender can set the price for the attacker to begin to buy in, but in the example, Louie is trying to convince the Don not to kill him, since Louie is initiating the action, surely he's the "attacker" and thus the Don should be setrting the buy-in price, not Louie? Also, the buy-in comcept seems flawed in that the person with the most chips is in a really strong position. Lets say Louie ended up with 40 and the Don with 30. Can could just set the buy-in price at 31, meaning that the Don can do nothing, and Louie then has 9 chips to dictate whatever he likes and the Don can do nothing about it as he can't meet the buy-in price. Do I have that right? Can you clarify?

Sorry to ask so many (possibly) stupid questions :-)

Brian.
Brian Leybourne
bleybourne@gmail.com

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion

Jake Norwood

Brian-

Those are good questions. I'm entirely re-working the creating personaggi part, so ditch it.

We've actually done a family in play, and it worked pretty well with modifications. I'll get an example in.

As for conflicts--I'm re-working prices so that it isn't so arbitrary, but so that I also don't need 1000 charts (and we all know I'm partial to charts). I'm actually trying to figure out the best way to do this.

I'm happy with comments, criticism, and ideas concerning my above post or the orginal game.

Jake
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Brian Leybourne

Quote from: Jake NorwoodAs for conflicts--I'm re-working prices so that it isn't so arbitrary, but so that I also don't need 1000 charts (and we all know I'm partial to charts). I'm actually trying to figure out the best way to do this.

What about something along the lines of Pretender or Otherkind, where the chips you end up with are spent in certain categories, like:

1. Who gets to narrate the outcome
2. How badly hurt (reputation-wise, physically, or whatever) each person gets
3. Who actually "wins" the conflict (whatever winning might mean in the specific context)
4. etc

So, after the blackjack is over, each character can bid chips into each category (maybe secretly?) and the person with the highest chips in each category gets to dictate that part of the conflict. So Louie may get to determine if the Don kills him or not, and how much reputation he can lose, but the Don gets to narrate exactly what happens, as long as he keeps within the "Louie isn't hurt much" and "Louie doesn't lose much reputation" strictures, etc.

Something like that could work?

Brian.
Brian Leybourne
bleybourne@gmail.com

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion

Jake Norwood

It could, but I'm reasonably decided in that area. This is my "artsy-ist" design by far, but I'm still designing it with specific goals in mind. I have a very hard time taking games where the narration passes from place to place very seriously. I like having a semi-traditional GM. I think that most of us do, or we'd play more games like Otherkind (which I do respect, but isn't my style). Trollbabe is really on to something as far as narrating your failures go, and I like that a lot; I also really like the idea that a player gets a big hand in what really happens, but the GM in LF is going to help tidy things up a bit and give "final-word" narration.

The area I think that I really do want feedback and discussion on is about characters, the family, and the players as relationships. Currently I'm thinking that every Player has a bankroll of free chips that can be used at most any time to buy a new reputation for any character (with some kind of GM or table consensus, a la Universalis), or even to buy a new character on-the-spot. The current plan is that you start play with only one character, but when the GM scene-frames a Player can say "I'd like to introduce [new character], who has the following reputations at this time: [list of 3 or 4 reps].

A new character comes into the world with only a few Reputations, and the players discover more about him as the game goes on, just as we would if reading about this character. I want the characters to take on a life of their own and to suprise us sometimes.

The Family I see as being a little more static and the only fully developed "character" in existence at the beginning of Play. This is also where the Allyria influence is really starting to tweak with me, as I think it would be neat to have the group come up with some characters and then divvy them up...swell idea, really.

The Player? The player has to be separate from his characters, because character death (a la "whacking") is going to happen from time to time, and sometimes a player will whack his own character with another character he's got. That's the life.

The next issue is "what do we do in the game," or the Forge standard (shame on you guys for not asking). I want there to be a lot of exploration of being a mafia guy (racketeering, etc.) involved. The premise at hand is "what is your repuation worth to you?"

Thanks in advance.

Jake
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Mike Holmes

On the guns issue, for a narrativist game, you'd want to consider the ramifications of each sort of weapon. That actually does include how much of a threat the weapn is, but not really how much damage it does. A kill is a kill, whether it's done with a room clearing ten guage, or a .22 to the head (which is actually the traditional  method of a hit, IIRC).

So I'd rate weapons by how much fear they instill, and by how conspicuous they are. Why don't we see mafiosos with shotguns in the movies? Because you can't conceal one easily. Even in a gangland shootout, the ammount of firepower available has little to do with money, or such, but more to do with how fearful the carriers are of pickng up weapons convictions.

Essentially the Conspicuous factor would be something that would cause problems all it's own. Carry around a shotgun with slugs long enough, and the cops are going to catch you with it. Or some other family is going to notice, and decide you're a loose cannon. Etc. Essentially I see it as something like a reputation with a double edge. Carries Arsenal is likely to make you feared, but also likely to catch the wrong sort of attention.

Just a thought.

Mike
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Jake Norwood

QuoteOn the guns issue, for a narrativist game, you'd want to consider the ramifications of each sort of weapon. That actually does include how much of a threat the weapn is, but not really how much damage it does. A kill is a kill, whether it's done with a room clearing ten guage, or a .22 to the head (which is actually the traditional method of a hit, IIRC).

So I'd rate weapons by how much fear they instill, and by how conspicuous they are.

Good point. The fear is what I'm really looking for, and that fear needs to be represented by mechanics the player fears, too. BTW, the "Lupara," or sawed-off-shotgun, was the traditional vendetta solver in sicillian families. Just a fun little thing I picked up.

Anyway, so we had a test run last night. I recruited Ashren's game group and we ran for about 2 hours, including Family Creation and the creation of a single character for each player. Here were my observations:

1) It was lots of fun, but it also turned out pretty silly. I do not want silly. Part of it was the group (they're just destructive), part of it was me (as GM I blew a building up on a "botch," early on, which set the chaotic tone, making it mostly my fault, I think). Unless players are pretty serious BlackJack players things seem very random (if you're better at it they're not, but who is?).

2) There needs to be lots of streamlining, and some more guidelines to set generally bad Reps from generally good ones. The game would probably be okay as-is for hardcore narrativists, but I'm trying to write a narrativist game that others will pick up and "get." There's too much "art" in the game at present. As with my designs in general, there's a steep learning curve. I want to reduce that a little.

3) I have no idea how I really want to handle NPC's chips. I'm trying to decide if the "House" has chips (kinda like Drama dice in 7th Sea) or if each NPC has it's own chips. For that matter I'm thinking about having more solidly defined "stats" that don't flux, making Reputations more add-ons than everything. It goes a little against my initial design goals, but it also seems more functional. I'm even considering some "binary" Reputations or stats, like Pendragon's traits.

4) I need some kind of quick random GM-helper, like drawing a single card to beat a certain number (for example), when making simple random decisions.

5) Modifiers are a little sticky, still. Currently they add-on to the pot after the hand is played, meaning that if you have, say, 6 chips worth of advantages and you lose your Chips at stake, you still have 6 chips for narration/resolution, but you don't get them into your Reputations. Thoughts?

I really appreciate the comments and help, guys. I know sometimes I'm not giving you much to work with, but comments like Mike's are really helping me craft the game into a product I'll like.

As a final note, here's the stories that are most influencing the design of this game:

Primary
- The Godfather Trilogy
- Miller's Crossing
- The Road to Perdition

Secondary
- Goodfellas
- Knockaround guys
- Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Am I missing anything? Anyway, the goal of the mechanics is to produce player-driven stories like those above.

Jake
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Mike Holmes

Quote from: Jake NorwoodBTW, the "Lupara," or sawed-off-shotgun, was the traditional vendetta solver in sicillian families.
Vendetta solver. That has to go into the text as part of the description of the weapon.

Quote1) It was lots of fun, but it also turned out pretty silly. I do not want silly. Part of it was the group (they're just destructive), part of it was me (as GM I blew a building up on a "botch," early on, which set the chaotic tone, making it mostly my fault, I think). Unless players are pretty serious BlackJack players things seem very random (if you're better at it they're not, but who is?).
This has been noted as what happens in some systems if there's nothing to indicate that play should be otherwise. Make sure that the rules concentrate on something non-silly, and it's less of an issue. Otherwise, left out in the open, players often just seem to resport to silly.

Quote2) There needs to be lots of streamlining, and some more guidelines to set generally bad Reps from generally good ones.
Why particularly? Was there a problem in play?

Quote3) I have no idea how I really want to handle NPC's chips. I'm trying to decide if the "House" has chips (kinda like Drama dice in 7th Sea) or if each NPC has it's own chips.
Just seems like a much easier to implement idea to have the house pot of chips. NPCs can get their own chips if players invest in them. This is cool because it sets up the power split really tightly.

QuoteFor that matter I'm thinking about having more solidly defined "stats" that don't flux, making Reputations more add-ons than everything. It goes a little against my initial design goals, but it also seems more functional. I'm even considering some "binary" Reputations or stats, like Pendragon's traits.
Lot's of possibilities there. Were there some reps that just seemed critical in play?

Quote5) Modifiers are a little sticky, still. Currently they add-on to the pot after the hand is played, meaning that if you have, say, 6 chips worth of advantages and you lose your Chips at stake, you still have 6 chips for narration/resolution, but you don't get them into your Reputations. Thoughts?
Just add them to the pot? Up the ante, so to speak? actually that's pretty problematic, too. How about just using them to modify the TN like Reps do? That is, positive modifiers add to Rep for purposes of determining success, and negative ones cancel positive ones or reps in use. To keep things fluid in terms of chips, allow the GM to "up the ante" like in Dust Devils, and add chips to pots that represent conflicts that he thinks are critical. These could come from the house pot. And chips lost might go to the house pot.

Just some ideas.

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
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Jake Norwood

Quote from: Mike-and-Ike HolmesThis has been noted as what happens in some systems if there's nothing to indicate that play should be otherwise. Make sure that the rules concentrate on something non-silly, and it's less of an issue. Otherwise, left out in the open, players often just seem to resport to silly.

Agreed. In TROS, mortality rate has some foot in that, as do the general nature of SAs. The problem here is that the Mafia genre has funny stuff in it, which can lead to silly--even when you want "gritty." Are you thinking metagame stuff here, text that "says so," or what? I'm starting to think metagame.

Quote
QuoteQuote:
2) There needs to be lots of streamlining, and some more guidelines to set generally bad Reps from generally good ones.  
Why particularly? Was there a problem in play?

I felt that I often was at a loss as to what to have players use. I needed to know their characters very well if I wanted to put them into a situation. Also, players would sometimes gamble their whole stack and lose it, leaving them with nothing to gamble. This could be a feature, but isn't yet. Some standardized Reps would stabilize things and smooth out the GM's decisions. It would also slow down the flux a little.

As for good vs. bad Reps... If you're using a Rep like, say, Fat to your advantage, (in other words, the Reputation is "at stake") and you lose then your Fat Rep is gone. Players could do this on purpose to lose negative Reputations and stack their players. It encourages Gamism-type behavior, which I want to avoid (at least here).

QuoteNPCs can get their own chips if players invest in them. This is cool because it sets up the power split really tightly.

If players invest? explain this idea a bit further, I like it so far...I think.

QuoteWere there some reps that just seemed critical in play?

Obviously anything gun-related. I think the issue is really one of stability for the GM.

QuoteHow about just using them (Modifier Chips) to modify the TN like Reps do? That is, positive modifiers add to Rep for purposes of determining success, and negative ones cancel positive ones or reps in use.

That's actually what I've been thinking, but described better by you. I want to spend more time with it, though. It become a dial issue, now, and I just what whatever will be fastest, easiest, and keep the "feeling."

Jake
Jake
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Jaeger

"It was lots of fun, but it also turned out pretty silly. I do not want silly. Part of it was the group (they're just destructive)"

 I heatedly resent the accusation that we were destructive. We just have very a selective defense mechanism when it comes to our surrounding enviornment and the existence of potential evidence against us, or police trying to arrest us.

That, and we like to blow stuff up.

 The playtest was fun, but it did come off as a sort of "Extreme Soprano's".

 The one thing that was talked about after we'd left was that it was kind of hard to take things serious when the results were so random. Part of that was our lack of blackjack skill. I at least felt that at least with dice (or a die pool) there are certain mathematical probabilities you can count on to succeed at certain things. With the cards the randomness factor increases multifold. They call it the luck of the cards (or draw) for a reason.
  Some of this randomness can be countered with good blackjack play, but the odds are in the favor of the house in the long run. With me the fact that chips and cards are used isn't an issue - just the apperant randomness of the results. I like the idea of bidding the chips for better results... perhaps a diffrent card game than blackjack to determine results?

 I, however, really liked the idea you talked about of having the charactors go through a period of riding high then undergoing a gradual downward spiral. I wish you could incorperate this concept somehow more fully into the game

 As far as purposfully losing points in a bad reputation - one way you could deal with that is that is by having the player go into the hole for the amount of rep he lost - this negative amount then goes into a sort of 'house pool' that can be used by the GM to counter the player's efforts once per adventure until he gets it into the black.

 Oh, just thought of a different card mechanic...
You play a round of five card draw poker, but... at the beginning of each game the players draw five or so ranadom cards that go into a sort of "backup hand" or "up you sleeve" card pool.
- you can exchange cards from your backup hand to your playing hand.
- but the card you replace it with gets put back into the deck.
- the number of cards "up your sleeve" would gradually reduce during play slowly or quickly depending upon how you play.
- so if a Player blows all his cards to get one good hand early on then he migh be out of luck later on when a card could have been more useful. Also they would have to make choices whether or not succees at a certain task was important enough to risk using a backup card (one could still be beaten backups or no). And what one has up his sleeve at any moment may be useless in a particular hand.

The GM perhaps could assign a certain number of backup cards to PC's as an attribute of sorts. depending on th NPC's power/importance.

The benefits as I see it:
- Poker is a bit less arbitrary than other card games (in my limited experience).
- backup cards mitigate this arbitraryness more, forcing the players to make judgement calls on the importance of certain actions.

Negatives:
- may require use of two decks, depending on the number of players. perhaps using cards with diffrent color backing red/blue to help differentiate which gets put back into the play deck and which into the backup deck.

 Of course I thought of this BS at 4:00 in the morning so I don't know how good of an idea this will seem later on.
I care not.

Jake Norwood

Actually, I've been thinking about "up your sleeve" cards. I'm thinking that every player gets a sort of permanent card up their sleeve that has a set value. For example, Player A has a 5. Anytime he wants he can play his 5 instead of taking a hit. This puts odds more in the players' favor.

I'm thinking that the card's value could be based on some kind of in-character aspect. I'm also trying to decide whether character could have multiple cards, and whether it's the character or the player that has a given card assigned (since multiple characters are possible).

Jake
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Mike Holmes

Uh, how are cards more random than dice? I mean there are 13 values that can be produced, four of which are ten, and one of which is one or eleven, your choice. This is less random than, say, a d20. In fact, I was going to comment that, with the ability to tamper with the end result, that the odds of winning are really rather high. Maybe I missed something in how the mechanic works, but it seems pretty reasonable to me.

Mike

Edited to add: you haven't gone back to just playing straight up Blackjack, have you Jake?
Member of Indie Netgaming
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Jake Norwood

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Edited to add: you haven't gone back to just playing straight up Blackjack, have you Jake?

Gone back? Did I ever leave?

Actually, the game is played with straight up casino-style blackjack. That means that if a player gets greedy and hits too hard he busts and looses. The realy danger in blackjack is busting, not losing to the dealer, who actually has worse chances to win than the players (as the dealer's hits are pre-determined by the 16/17 rule). As long as the player doesn't go for bust he should beat the dealer most of the time.

I agree that the odds of winning are rather high with the sleeve-card rule I've been considering. I'll want to playtest it, but I think that the sleeve-card has some potential, especially if it's a limited rescource or has a price attatched. That way players won't use it every hand they can, but only on those hands where it's really needed or provides an excellent opportunity. Or perhaps you can only pull that card when it would give you a 21. That narrows it's usage a lot, but also gives the players something else to play for.

Maybe call it "bribing the dealer." A player can give the dealer, say, 10 Chips to get him to "look the other way" as the player pulls the card out of his sleeve. All metaphorically speaking, of course.

Incidentally, what's the most useful card to have up your sleeve. I'd say a 6. Mike? Any actual idea?

Jake
"Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." -R.E. Howard The Tower of the Elephant
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Mike Holmes

I thought that you'd gone to some sort of thing where reputation affected the outcome. Adding up to the rep in question as a card or something like that. We'd discussed some options like that, and you said you had something in mind.

Quote from: Jake NorwoodIncidentally, what's the most useful card to have up your sleeve. I'd say a 6. Mike? Any actual idea?

Easy. Assuming it has two values, the Ace.

Followed by the two, then three, etc. This because for the most part you're going to play similar to the dealer rules, and if smart based off it (you can get the 'How to play best" thingie at any casino). As such, it's going to be very common to be able to get to near to the point where you're going to beat the dealer. The small card allows you to pump up to an even better score. The higher the card, the less often you'll be able to do this. IOW, a six only helps you in many situations where you might be hitting normally anyhow. Whereas a two will help you in all but two non-hitting situations (having a twenty or twentyone already, which is likely to win anyhow). Of course this is long-term. For short term, you want a combnation of oomph and usability. Maybe the three or four is optimal in that case?

The eleven value of an Ace isn't all that important. Only when you're first two cards add to ten. But it's better than nothing.

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Brian Leybourne

Quote from: Jake NorwoodThe realy danger in blackjack is busting, not losing to the dealer, who actually has worse chances to win than the players (as the dealer's hits are pre-determined by the 16/17 rule). As long as the player doesn't go for bust he should beat the dealer most of the time.

I have not sat down and worked through the odds, but I simply can't believe that in standard Black Jack the advantage is to the player. The house ALWAYS has the advantage, otherwise Casino's wouldn't exist. The advantage can be pretty slim at times (in roulette it's the 00 that swings every odd in the house's favor, by a tiny amount but adding up in the long run) but it's always there.

Quote from: Jake NorwoodIncidentally, what's the most useful card to have up your sleeve. I'd say a 6. Mike? Any actual idea?

Given that your average card pull is (5.5+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+10+10+10)/13, or 6.88, the average of your 2 cards must be about 13.76, i.e. 13-14. This is slightly off because the 5.5 average for an Ace is a choice, not a certainty, but it basically works. Given the 13-14, you would want to give the player a 7, giving them a 20-21 expected result.

Brian.
Brian Leybourne
bleybourne@gmail.com

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion